Sunday, April 29, 2018

Blue Mat, Poems After Yang Wanli - Arthur Bull (Anaphora Literary Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Blue Mat, Poems After Yang Wanli.  Arthur Bull.  Anaphora Literary Press.  Brownsville, Texas.  2017.

Arthur Bull has shown Today's book of poetry another way.  Arthur Bull starts Blue Mat, Poems After Yang Wanli with a couple of translations of Yang Wanli by Bull himself.  Yang Wanli was a Chinese poet who lived from 1127-1206.  Wanli wrote about the beauty of nature and at the same time was witty about life's little foibles and the human bean experience.  Bull's translations make Yang Wanli sound immediate, contemporary, cleversmart.

Bull doesn't stop at Yang Wanli, Blue Mat also includes a few translations of Du Mu (1459-1525), a Chinese poet from the Ming Dynasty.  And again, Bull's translations feel entirely prescient.  Bull, a Canadian, living in Nova Scotia, has found a secret black hole in the fabric of time.

Arthur Bull's translations are seamless, and without notation it would be impossible to tell which were the poems of Yang Wanli, Du Mu or the very contemporary Arthur Bull.

Blue Mat

I am joined on my blue rubber yoga mat
by a slug, moving as though all its senses
were concentrated in its two fleshy horns,
their round nubs stressing and straining
to extend perception to the whole universe:
seems pretty confident of getting it right.
I close my eyes awhile, then open them:
the slug is gone, having let behind only
a crooked white trail, shapely, still wet.


Arthur Bull's mantra, meditation and musing all poetic feels exactly like that of his long departed Chinese partners in crime.  Except they contain some of the scraps and flotsam and jetsam of our so called modern world.  Bull does capture, very succinctly, our slow march against time and circumstance.  It's all done carefully as mice and with admirable brevity.

Bull's Blue Mat, Poems After Yang Wanli also contains two short prose travelogues of journeys to China, pilgrimages of sorts to the homes of Bull's heroes.  They spice things up considerably.

     "...Thus it was that we descended Wutai Shan, with a bus full of Buddhist pilgrims, monks and nuns, nodding and tapping their feet to the sound of Howlin' Wolf's voice."


Every summer our neighbors grew a pig.
They treated it very well, the kids even
named it, the most recent being Zorro.
they would visit him and scratch his forehead
with a stick, which he enjoyed, immensely
unaware that this was to make him calm
for when the time came to scratch his forehead
with the barrel of a hunting rifle.


Our morning read was a respectful grab-bag of energy and enthusiasm.  Arthur Bull's poems come from a deep well and his practice of Chan Buddhism.  Our minions wanted to be respectful and present when reading these poems.  Milo, our head tech, led the change and set the good example for the rest of my literary bedbugs.  The other minions followed suit.

So it was that on an overcast Sunday morning in Vanier a bunch of Canadians, mostly of Irish descent, did their best to honour Arthur Bull and his Chinese friends Yang Wanli and Du Mu.

Recalling Past Travels

Li Bai put West-of-Waters
Temple in one of his poems

Aged trees ring the mountaintop
winds sift through the uppers rooms

Half-drunk or half-sober
on a three-day wander

I saw red and white flowers
opening in the mountain rain

(Du Mu, trans. AB)


Arthur Bull has done a remarkable thing with Blue Mat, Poems After Yang Wanli.  Bull has brought two Chinese poets, long part of the ether, back to life and respected them with his beautiful homage.

We should all be so kind to our heroes.

Blue Mat, Poem After Yang Wanli was nothing but pleasure.  Arthur Bull writes the simple line, with the weight of the world hovering.


Arthur Bull

Arthur Bull lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. He has previously published three books of poetry, as well as four chapbooks. His poems and translations from classical Chinese have appeared in numerous Canadian and international journals. Bull is also a musician, and has worked for a number of small-scale fishery organizations.



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Friday, April 27, 2018

How Do I Look? - Sennah Yee (Metatron Press)

Today's book of poetry:
How Do I Look?  Sennah Yee.  Metatron Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2017.


A poet named after Aryton Senna.  For Today's book of poetry that fact alone almost takes our breath away.  Not surprisingly Sennah Yee has an F1 driver's simplicity in mastering that shortest distance between two points mantra.  These poems come across as terse and teasing darts from a love-sick Cupid.

How Do I Look? is a hipster's handbook and travel guide.  How Do I Look? is a collection of movie reviews where Siskel and Ebert are both hash-smoking robots with inexplicable savior faire.

Texas Forever

In Austin, someone who looks exactly like the Madonna-
pap-smear girl from Slacker serves me pistachio ice cream
with an extra scoop "just cuz." I try slowing down my
speech to a drawl, my power-walk to a stroll. We rent a
car and drive out of the city. I can't eat my extra "just
cuz" scoop fast enough against the sun. It seeps down the
waffle cone, my hand, onto my thigh. I lick my fingers and
look out the car window. The billboards tell me that God
and Jesus love me lots out here, but I'd never guess from
everyone's glares.


The poems in How Do I Look? are brief prose poems where Sennah Yee goes into the corners hard and comes out smoking.  Today's book of poetry was immediately taken aback by how Yee both takes the reader the lapels and says "HEY, you need to look at this!", and at the same time Yee's gentle nonchalance suggests she has already moved on.

Today's book of poetry has all the time in the world for strong women's voices and Sennah Yee is aces.  Yee has that "cool" veneer that often resembles a big emotional barrier for access, the "cool" that doesn't allow entry to the heart, but Yee is smarter than that.  She never lets her cool get in the way of making her point.

How Do I Look? is a bold handshake and rips right through the reader's first line of defence with Yee's ambidextrous heroine cutting through the red tape of the unsaid and getting right to the meat and potatoes.

Real Love

After we fight you make up by cooking me sunny-side-up
quail eggs on tiny slices of rock-hard baguette. The yolk
dribbles out of my mouth and down my chin. I feel a shard
of shell nick the lining of my throat.  Still, I swallow.


Before our morning read Today's book of poetry had to give a very short talk to our minions about who Aryton Senna was.  The source of Yee's name (although we are entirely prepared for the fact that the chameleon in Yee might just be pulling our leg) was a great hero.  He was not only the best racing driver who ever lived, he was a generous humanitarian beloved by the poor of Brazil.  When he died there were three days of national mourning in Brazil.  His talent was breathtaking.  Look him up even though it has nothing to do with poetry.

Sennah Yee still doesn't drive.  But she sure can burn.  Our morning read was a crackerjack, these short poems rolling off of our reader's tongues like shining and pointed arrows headed straight for the bull's eye.

Yee can be a tough and bitter heartache struggling with the morning and a tender lover with sweet intent and can fit both performances on to the head of a pin.

High angles would do nothing for the gap between my
breasts. I would use the flash to wash my features out. I
would open my eyes far and wide. Think doe-eyed. Think
Audry, Think Zooey. Think mine are going to fall out of
their sockets. When Bambi's mom got shot, my sister made
my mom stop the VCR and put on Mulan instead. "Don't 
look back. Keep running. Keep running."


Today's book of poetry was immediately poetry-smitten by the witty Sennah Yee.  We'd let her drive any time.

Image result for sennah lee poet photo

Senna Yee

Sennah Yee.  b. 1992, Toronto.  Sennah writes poetry, writes about films, and writes poetry about films.   Her debut book of poetry/non-fiction HOW DO I LOOK? is at Metatron Press.

She is a PhD student in Cinema & Media Studies at York University, focusing her research on gender dynamics in female robots in Japan and the US. Her MA thesis, Gendered Robot Design in Mainstream Media & Technology, was awarded a SSHRC Grant.

She is the Arts Editor at Shameless, a magazine for young women and trans youth. She is Co-Editor and Contributor to The Fuck of the Century, a web-based pop culture journal.

She is the Producer and Production Designer of the feature film Withdrawn, which premiered at Slamdance Film Festival in 2017.

Though named after a Formula 1 driver, she has yet to get behind the wheel. She tweets @sennahaha.

"In Yee's poetry, whole worlds, multiple worlds, can live in just a few sentences and countless people and histories can exist within one person's body. You can live a while life in just one of Yee's paragraphs.
     — Mitski

Sennah Yee
Book trailer for:  How Do I Look?
Video:  Hera Hera Creative



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bulletproof - Wolfgang Carstens (Grey Borders Books) + Hell and High Water - Wolfgang Carstens (Six Ft. Swells Press)

Today's books of poetry:
Bulletproof.  Wolfgang Carstens.  Grey Borders Books.  USA.  2017
Hell and High Water.  Wolfgang Carstens.  Six Ft. Swells Press.  USA.  2017.

Image result for wolfgang carstens

These two Wolfgang Carstens beasts arrived at the door of the Today's book of poetry offices like they were Storm Troopers.  Usually our mail arrives via the post, Today's book of poetry can't wait to see the mail coming up the driveway, our mail carrier always smiling in her quiet diligence.  Carstens' stuff barked, snarled, booted and basically threatened all sorts of heinous result if we didn't let them in the door.

Bulletproof and Hell and High Water are the bastard children who climbed out of the bottle-strewn grave of Sir Charles the B.  Make no mistake.  Today's book of poetry is not suggesting that Wolfgang Carstens writes like Buk, he doesn't.  Carstens leaves less meat on the bone when he carves out these lean tales of woe and wonder.  Carstens doesn't take Bukowski's narrative or structure or style — but he does get to the heart of the matter surgeon and scalpel quick, always.

Slave Lake, 2014

we were on vacation,

my wife was mad at me.
she's always made at me
about one thing or another.

we were at the beach.
she wanted to leave
and i wanted to fish.

she made her stand on the shore
with the kids and the dog.
i dragged my lawn chair
twenty feet in the water
and sat down.

come hell or high water,
i wasn't leaving

i got both,

and high water.


Both of these splendid books read like the poems were bullets coming our of a machine gun on rapid fire.  Wolfgang Carstens could not possibly be clearer as his voice, constant and rumbling, riffs over the winning and losing moments that make up a life.

Carstens never backs down from his frank entreaties, never backs up a bit — and Today's book of poetry admires that.  Even when faced with the obvious or the immovable, the intractable and even when facing his fearsome better half.  Many of Carstens poems are built out of the on-going conversation between Carstens and his wife/muse.  She always comes out sharper, stronger, wiser.  Carstens never breaks character but his love poems do betray the true romantic that resides in the heart of the beast.

Tina Maria,

my first wife,
needed to be
the center
of attention.

i ran into her
a few years ago.

she mentioned
that she had been
following my career.

"i've read
your poems
about Alice,
Sandra Dawn,
and Tracy Lee,"
she said.

"have you
written any poems
about me,"
she asked.

i said.

the look
on her face
was priceless.

i guess it's true.

really is a dish
best served


Carstens is a hard-hearted at times, tempered you might say, but he won over a lot of hearts at the Today's book of poetry morning reading because these poems are so immediately accessible.  Carstens puts up no barriers, these poems are recognizable heart-barks even though they may be combustible.  Today's book of poetry thinks Carstens like to start the occasional blaze just to watch things burn.

Our morning read introduced our staff to Tomas, our new head of security.  Tomas replaces Odin on our crew and we will all miss Odin.  Tomas carries a whole different vibe.  With Odin it was hard to get more than two or three words out of him a month, with Tomas, he was in the office for five minutes and knew everything about everyone, shared a couple of jokes, and sniffed out every snack in the place.  Tomas spent his first morning checking out the place and then he enthusiastically joined in for the morning read and did his part.  

With these short salt 'n pepper poems we dominoed through both Bulletproof and Hell and High Water in no time at all.

Today's book of poetry can't help but be attracted to this poetry.  Carstens knows there is only one way out for him and he is hammering away to make it so.  His optimism is often buried in whatever lament he's crackling, but Carstens still has hope.

in the past five years

i've been diagnosed
with Arthritis,
and skin Cancer.

i can't raise
my left arm
above my head,
my lungs operate
at 37% capacity,

and i hobble around
with my cane
like an old woman

my doctors
have already given me
an expiration date.

but tonight,

with a bottle of Patron,
a full pack of cigarettes,
and a song in my heart,

i swear to fucking Christ
i ain't never gonna die.


Bulletproof and Hell and High Water are both barrels of the shotgun, a full on scatter-shot blast of heart-directed misery and love, anxiety and joy, hope and despair.  The whole laugh and cry gamut is available.  Carstens has acres of energy compressed into his sparse missives and once they gain entry in your poetry head, they blossom.  The reader is pulled in on the first page and left wanting more.

Wolfgang Carstens poems live at the heart of the matter and it shows in every poem.

Image result for wolfgang carstens photo

Wolfgang Carstens

Wolfgang Carstens lives in Canada with his wife, five kids, grandson, dog, mortgage and death. His poetry is printed on the backs of unpaid bills.  More information at

Wolfgang Carstens
Reading from Hell and High Water
Video: Jenny S. Poetry readings



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Maunder - Claire Kelly (Palimpsest Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Maunder.  Claire Kelly.  Palimpsest Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2017.

To maunder: Move or act in a dreamy or idle manner.

Claire Kelly's Maunder showed up at just the right time and Today's book of poetry couldn't be happier.  Snappy isn't a word Today's book of poetry would commonly use for poems but Claire Kelly is a marvel.  Some of these poems actually leap off of the page and pretty-slap your gobsmacked poetry face.

Kelly can dial in comic at whim but what Today's book of poetry glommed onto was that Kelly never goes to the easy out.  This is master-class material and I'll try to tell you why.  From the very first poem in Maunder you are comfortably in the Kelly kitchen and she can burn.

The Human Gyroscope: A Study in Momentum

Olive Oyl swings and capers
in front of the bar band.
All sinew and bowl cut, zombie arms,
graceless angles. Plumpness on her
would be a joke: champagne thrown in the sea.

Her Popeye hunches his shoulders— 
no can of spinach to be wolfed, just a bottle
of domestic—and observes his feet as if they plot
instead of plod.

Olive's whirligigging. Small breasts jostling
under flimsy fabric. She's
sped beyond                       to another dimension,
(or has discovered dimensionless-ness),
                            She's a wild quark, a string theory jiving.
                            Broken loose, she's neither particle
                            nor wave. Something different.
                            The opposite of inert. A gas that might
                            spark more than mockery.

Cacophony. The drummer's over-the-top slaughter
of his rack-mounted toms ends the set.
It's all intake and outtake now.

Matter collapses into chairs.
Bathroom driven, Popeye pukes
all the way up the stairs and round the bend,
followed by an acolyte of bucket and mop
collecting another sample to be analyzed.

Ears ring with absence of racket.
Olive Oyl downs her whisky and soda.


Claire Kelly understands that the punch line isn't always where the best action takes place.  And as a result her syncopated timing is constantly pushing us towards all new and unexpected rewards.

Today's book of poetry isn't kidding about the reward thing, Maunder is literally packed with page after page of aces.  One of Today's book of poetry's closest and dearest friends fancies himself an artist, and he is a fine one, but mostly he is a flaneur, a world-class observer.  Claire Kelly is a flaneur of distinction and you are going to want to hear every word as she shows you the world, not as it appears, but through her reasoned prism and suddenly you begin to see how things really are.

"Fun!"  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, asserted that Maunder was serious fun, adult fun, revealing fun, understanding of the Magi fun.  And just to prove Today's book of poetry's point here is a dandy list poem from Kelly.  And you all know how we like a good list poem here.

curb' N.—

A silver-plated Venetian penknife.

A blind woman's quilting needle.

A hockey stick blade overly bent and technically illegal.

A person who nods.

A chunk cut from the ear of a feral cat.

An albino python stuffed and mounted above a mantle.

The taste of under-ripe but still palatable fruit.

A photo of near-deathbed relatives.

A scar that brings hypnotic comfort.

The artistry between nudity and nakedness.

A prophecy from one unaccustomed to giving good news.

An ever-sullen Irishman.


Our morning read was the best of the season so far.  The spring sun has finally broken through here on Dagmar and we've opened up the windows here at Today's book of poetry.  We had several visitors on hand this morning and we lined them up so that they could take their turn with Maunder.  Alex, Otis, Caroline, Sabera and Jean all tackled Kelly and with excellent result.

Today's book of poetry knows nothing about Claire Kelly personally, Maunder is her first book but we are certain it is the first of many.  Another thing we are certain of is that my grandmother was a Kelly too.  So Today's book of poetry acknowledges we might have had a predisposition to Kelly on the off chance we are related.  But truth be told, no Kelly on my side of the family ever had much in the way of sense to rely on.  None of the Kelly's on my side of the family were bookish in any way.

Claire Kelly's Maunder reminds us of why we love poetry in the first place with one wise assault after another.  There is nothing quite like those A-ha! moments where a poem not only surprises you but changes your mind with delight.  Kelly's Maunder is poetry full of opportunity and hope, optimism and just a little experienced dread.

Similes from Pure Sleep

     Linguistically, sleep loss appears to interfere with novel
      responses and the ability to suppress routine answers.
                                         —YVONNE HARRISON and JAMES HORNE,
                                                           from The Journal of Sleep Research

Stubborn as a turntable
spinning Wu-Tang clan
until the neighbours pound
an aggrieved beat
on the 3a.m. walls.

Jagged as the schismatic end
of a too-close friendship,
with hangouts and cohorts divided
by even and odd days
into a checkerboard calendar
of camaraderie and loneliness.

Stiff as the drinks
my mother no longer pours
after finding religion
in my brother's ashtray:
Jesus' bearded visage
radiating from a nicotine-
stained Styrofoam plate.

Pockmarked as the sixth moon of Jupiter
after a mining conglomerate
ceases gouging its smooth surface,
hauling an armada of icebergs
through the solar system.

Sure-fire as taking your six-year-old
to see The Exorcist and,
in the middle of the night
laying green vomity goo
by the bed until he awakens,
terrified, a livewire bundle
of future therapy bills
and sleep deprivation.


Whoosh.  If we said that Claire Kelly always plays nice we must have been stringing you along.  Maybe we are related after all?

Today's book of poetry welcomes Claire Kelly to the chorus of Canadian poets, the choir just improved.

Image result for claire kelly photography

Claire Kelly

Claire Kelly’s work has been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Exile Quarterly, Event, and Prism International. Her chapbook, Ur-Moth, was published in 2014 by Frog Hollow Press. Maunder is her first full-length collection. She lives and writes in Edmonton, Alberta.

Rural wanderers and urban flâneurs, the myriad speakers in Claire Kelly’s Maunder, swagger, stalk, tiptoe, and promenade inquisitively through time and place, attentive to the vertiginous strangeness of their own experience, the “symbiotic economy” of self and other. Kelly examines oddity and quiddity alike with resilience, humour, and sonic verve.
—Michael Prior, author of Model Disciple

Claire Kelly
Reads from Maunder
at The Steady, Toronto
Video: LPGAIILitUp



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Deep Well - Dan Bellm (Lavender Ink)

Today's book of poetry: 
Deep Well.  Dan Bellm.  Lavender Ink.  New Orleans, Louisiana.  2017.

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Deep Well is exactly as advertised.  Dan Bellm is casting his bucket deep into that space between a mother and a son, that envelope between then and now, and the unknown distance from one heart to another.

Bellm is so soft spoken in these lovely poems that you are surprised when you get to the end and realize that he has been the strong man all along.

Last Bed

     A shallow breath, then
a pause that might be the end,
     then a shallower

     one, a slight choking
clearing of the last of the
     life caught in her throat,

     a low sigh, faintest
wisp of an exhalation
     set free -- that was all --

     and already, as
we stroked her hands, her cold brow,
     in the suddenly

     brief minutes we were
granted of farewell before
     the white sheet lowered

     over her and she
was wheeled away into the
     busyness of death

     through an unmarked door,
had her spirit fled? Or was
     she now going to

     be wherever we
are? Sitting on the edge of
     her last bed I closed

     my eyes, as if to
come again into my first
     room in our long-lost

     house, as if to know
as before that she was near,
     would come if I called--

                                   (for Carol)


Bellm, in his quiet dignity, has that most difficult conversation with his mother only to discover that she'd been waiting for him with love.  Today's book of poetry grew up in an era where my generation mocked the idea of anyone being gay, taunted any suspect.  We were not kind.  Some of us have learned how wrong and stupid and silly we were.  For any person of that era a public declaration was beyond brave.  In a world that believed being gay was taboo it required a strong, brave heart.  Families were torn apart because sons wanted to kiss boys.

Bellm's Deep Well never falters in tone and his stylistic metronome plays a soft, steady hammer, a relentless and sturdy beat.


                      Jorge Esquinca

     To write, or to walk,
on water: when I was a 
     boy, the image I

     had of walking on
water, that miracle, was
     so clear. To a boy

     who can ride on a 
Persian carpet, everything's
     a miracle. I
     tried it once in a
pool and sank to the bottom.
     Maybe the deep was

     calling me; maybe
there was no place for me on
     the surface, or in

     the miracle. I
tried, quickly, one time only,
    one instant only,

     with no witnesses.
Nor did voices call to me
     from a boat; they came

     from the deep. At the
bottom, before she died, my
     mother was singing.

              *  *  *

     What my mother was
singing cannot be said. It
     was not a matter

     of saying; it was
something I heard. Her voice came
     from the bottom and

     returned me to the
surface; it showed a way back
     to breath. Between two

     waters, far from the
bottom and still far from the
     surface, set adrift.

     Beyond the water,
I sank into her voice to
     breathe again. What the

     miracle is, now
I think I know: not to walk
     on the waters but

     between them. And since
what my mother was singing
     can't be said, I write.


Today's book of poetry identified with Dan Bellm at so many points in this charming discussion he is having for our benefit.  Not many books of poetry dare to talk about the nature of love and come out shining on the other side.  The very clever Bellm shows us how it is done.

Our morning read was rendered tender by the whispering voices of our own departed mothers.  By the end of Deep Well there wasn't a dry eye  in the house - but we were all smiling.

Family angel, 1964

     Underneath the dim
eternal lamp the monstrance
     of the sacrament

     stands open all the
hours of God's death, the crosses
     wrapped in shrouds. At the

     fourth station Jesus
meets his mother, handmaiden
     of silent sorrow

     who will have to live
on. My mother must think I
     am playing somewhere,

     doesn't know that I
have sneaked into the church to
     pray, but surely she

     thinks of him, too, the
boy I waited all winter
     for, the one taken

     without a breath, name
the family does not mention.
     There is another

     angel in heaven
now, she said, to hear our prayers,
     and that was all, a

     tiny open place
on the new grass without a
     stone -- no sighing, no

     why. She smoothed a fresh
cloth over the table and
     went about her work,

     setting places for
the family to sit and eat.
     He would have been like

     me -- why should I doubt
it?  -- I would have taught him what
     I know. Let me weep

     with you, mother, all
my days, I read in the book,
     waiting for a voice

     to call me brother,
breath frozen silent in the
     incense of the air.


Dan Bellm's Deep Well makes me think that spring is right around the corner, that the rain will stop and the blue, blue sky will be as bright as it was in our dreams.  Bellm finds joy and with joy comes hope - and you all know how much Today's book of poetry is a fan of hope.

That there is no love like a mother's love most of us already know, Bellm reminds us by touching that part of our hearts.


Dan Bellm

Dan Bellm lives in Berkeley, California. Deep Well is his fourth full-length collection of poems. His previous book,Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press, San Francisco), won the 2009 California Book Award. Dan’s first book of poems, One Hand on the Wheel, launched the California Poetry Series from Roundhouse Press; his second, Buried Treasure, won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, The Ecopoetry Anthology, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other journals and anthologies. Recent books of poetry in translation include Speaking in Song, by Mexican poet Pura López Colomé (Shearsman Books, UK, 2017), The Song of the Dead, by French poet Pierre Reverdy (Black Square Editions, New York, 2016), and Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue, by Mexican poet Jorge Esquinca (Unicorn Press, Greensboro, NC, 2015). He teaches literary translation and poetry in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

With a touch on the keys of language as light as the air we breathe, Dan Bellm traces his mother's death, and abides her continuing presence, as the keeper of "this/ blessing of kindness" which is both hers and his. Deep Well is a book of the purest poetry I have read in a long time. I am grateful for it.
     -- Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light
Dan Bellm's Deep Well is a breathtaking, constantly astonishing elegiac sequence of poems in honor of his mother. Reflecting upon both the power of her presence in his life and the deepening grief of watching her passage through Alzheimer's, Dan Bellm both celebrates the fierce integrity of this remarkable woman and quietly charts his own poetics of loss. These lyrics of memoriam and these deep songs (in Lorca's sense) of mourning seem almost to etch themselves onto the air. Keep this book at hand; hold its passages close. This is an essential collection of poetry.
     -- David St. John, author of The Last Troubadour: New and Selected Poems
Speaking through the wound of grief, Dan Bellm reaches to the most sorrowful depth of first consciousness and clarity, a true infans, a state before words, one that can neither laugh nor cry except in innocentia, the inability to harm. Few humans, even few poets, can preserve such a state. Dan Bellm is one of them. This Deep Well, this wide-ranging metaphor for the one who taught him to love writing, conveys a trust and a faith in sacred words that carry the "undying tremor and draw" Seamus Heaney compared to water far down a well.
     -- Pura López Colomé, author of Via Corporis

Wrought in a series of delicately articulated three-line stanzas—as if each stanza is a meditation on the relationship between the mother, the son, and the spirit—Dan Bellm's poems have worked some sort of magic on my heart. Reading Deep Well, I am at once sad and elated, aware of righteous indignation and far-reaching compassion. The poems here are part of a conversation that knows no boundaries. Neither foreign languages nor national borders, not denials nor death, can hinder these urgent and universal utterances. I am grateful to Deep Well for its precise and profound translation of what it means to inherit this lot that our language calls love.
     -- Camille T. Dungy, author of Trophic Cascade

In Deep Well, Dan Bellm writes the poems none of us ever wants to have to write, on watching a parent die, and he does it with a sense of beauty and wonder that, in spite of the suffering, leaves the reader in awe of life: “Her voice came/ from the bottom and// returned me to the/ surface; it showed a way back/ to breath.
     — Mark Statman, author of That Train Again

Dan Bellm transcends the expected in every poem of Deep Well. Nuanced, lyrical and reaching ever deeper beneath the ground, this collection is Bellm's best yet.
     -- Idra Novey, author of Ways to Disappear

Dan Bellm
Lunch Poems
Video: University of California Television



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air - Rienzi Crusz (Mawenzi House)

Today's book of poetry:
How to Dance in This Rarefied Air.  Rienzi Crusz.  Mawenzi House.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

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Today's book of poetry couldn't say it for a certainty but we strongly believe Rienzi Crusz has some of the answers we've been seeking.  This past week has been a difficult time here in the Today's book of poetry offices.

Sometimes, and this is one of them, the world news is just too much to bear and we become deafened by the fusillade of despair.  Syria, Beirut, Rwanda, Mogadishu.  And there are no saints dancing in Canada either as Aboriginal women continue to vanish and reconciliation remains a bitter word and an unfulfillable promise.

Closer to home friends of my age group having been falling to the side like pine needles off of a tree in a stiff wind.  Mortality has been licking at our heels and the entire staff feels a little skittish.

So How to Dance in This Rarefied Air by Rienzi Crusz feels like a balm.  These are poems from a sophisticated and robust citizen of the world.  Crusz, who was born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) now resides in Canada, understands our country and our society from both sides;  he is both an immigrant and a citizen.  Both narratives play out in these poems that feel like stories we should know.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air

How he jabs his thick forefinger
     into my poetic
as if it were a breastbone.
     O God, how it hurts;

cups his eyes
     against my passionate burning,
the bougainvillea's profusion,
as a rogue in heat.

My words, it would seem.
     elude him by a generation;
I would walk only
     in shaded byways or exotic arbours,
the poem jaundiced
     without the blood of a new idiom.

What he wants
     is wasteland:
white, scrubbed, frontier;
whose poems
     must deconstruct to bare bone,
the flesh and blood laid out separately
     to dry like fish
in the noonday sun.

No. I will not desert
     those wintered killing fields,
the spilled blood sweeter
     among the paddies, the frangipani,
upside-down elephant
     squinting at the sun.
Noble Eliot, you might as well
     rest in peace,
your ransom will not be paid.

My ear to the ground
     and I hear the drumbeat of Avon,
mad Hamlet strut and nurse
     his eloquent pain;
Milton, hammering Lucifer
     to a perfect poetic, a perfect Hell.

Wounded, give me the psalms of David,
     words to learn by rote, comfort the dark sargassum
of my days,
     how the valley of death
passes like a bad dream.

I am still here, Montes de Oca,
     my beautiful wild Mexican bard,
belting my boisterous song;
     and Pablo, hug me again,
show me the true metaphors
     of sun and rain,
how to throw my bread on the waters,
     circle the world with a poem.

Speak to me, Rabindranath,
     I need to hear your distant voice,
bask under your stunning skies; 
     and Kahlil, I haven't forgotten
your wisdom that must laugh
     and weep, how one's head to a child.

And Dylan, do I ever love the melody
     of your song, your riotous book of words;
good Manley, sing, sing, sing,
     I'm all ears and silent;
Lorca, my friend,
     tell me the secrets of "Duende",
ask the spirit to stab my words again.

Rilke, take me gently
     into the depths of myself,
the soundless paths,
     how to listen, listen, listen;
as for you, Vallejo,
     teach me the thunder of silence,
the value of the spilled blood,
     how to dance in this rarefied air.


How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is old time wisdom.  Crusz reads Pablo Neruda and all the other Poet-Saints and he wants you to read them too.  Today's book of poetry had Milo, our head tech, go into the stacks and he came back with Rienzi Crusz's Elephant and Ice (Porcupine's Quill, 1980) but unfortunately - nothing else.  Milo's newest assignment will be to procure any/all of the other many Rienzi Crusz poetry titles.

After reading How to Dance in This Rarefied Air Crusz has become a must read, Today's book of poetry is always going to have time for poetry this smart.  As Adhipadya Rienzi Crusz (see Adhipadya and think Duke) says:

     "Listen. At the margins of poetry
      are lies, modes of ridicule,
      foul words, sweet nothings;
      but savour the mad beautiful dance of metaphor,
      imaginative leaps, primeval chaos --
      for at the centre
      lies truth
      still and uncompromising as desert stone."
                                       from Poetics for the Doubting One

Today's book of poetry loves the image of "God playing marbles" that Crusz leaves burned in my skull because it fits perfectly with my theory of plans made and the Gods laughing.  Crusz writes poems like elegant missives of understanding.

In Crusz world his vision encompasses all of us, his poems narratives that cover all that empty space between a new country and the old.


For Cleta Nora Marcellina Serpanchy

What the end usually demands
is something of the beginning,
and so
I conjure history from a cup
of warm Portuguese blood
from my forefathers
black diamond eyes, charcoal hair
from my Sinhalese mothers;
the beached catamaran,
gravel voices of the fishermen,
the catch still beating like a heart
under the pelting sun;
how the pariah dogs looked urgent
with fish-meal in their brains,
the children romped, sagged,
then melted into the sand.

A Portuguese captain holds
the soft brown hand of my Sinhala mother.
It's the year 1515 AD,
when two civilizations kissed and merged,
and I, burgher of that hot embrace,
write a poem of history
as if it were only the romance
of a lonely soldier on a crowded beach
in Southern Ceylon.


The morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was a little more boisterous than usual as several members of a book club descended on our little corner of the world in the hopes of gourmet coffee and teasing brunch treats.  Today's book of poetry said they were more than welcome to stay for the reading -- but only if they participated.  There is no better way to get inside a poem than to read it out loud.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air got the full treatment and it sounded spectacular; Crusz bounced around room and hushed all conversation like we were in church.  Deep respect rose in the voice of every reader.


For Anne

"This is all there is and this is everything" - JOYCE CAROL OATES

Take my poems--
I have nothing else of value to give you.
of lonely nights, faithful candles
that flamed and sputtered until
my metaphors were right.

Take my poems--
my kingdom of fears in harness,
days of silence
when my neighbouring world
danced its tumultuous jig
and laughed.

Take my poems--
they were born with a brown skin,
sang with a brown voice,
danced a brown jig, preserved,
until the cold white paper
took in my words with the music
and fatted calf of the prodigal story.

Take my poems--
my umber heart my umber words,
the forgotten pain, the remembered music,
the new landscape,
why I thought God was a poem,
the poem, the only cosmic poet.

Take my poems--
mostly, because I love you,
they are the bloodstones
of my youth, fading footsteps of age,
small bouquets
that may, perhaps, survive a little while
like a memory.

Nothing else comes to mind--
the house is only wood and cabook,
the money is paper.


"Take my poems--".  What better legacy.

Rienzi Crusz impressed today's book of poetry with his compassionate reason and his beautiful song.  How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is a poetry treasure.  You want to be in this poetry kitchen, Crusz has spiced this thing just so

Rienzi Crusz

Rienzi Crusz was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada in 1965. Educated at the Universities of Ceylon, London (England), Toronto, and Waterloo. He has widely published in magazines in Canada and the United States, and is the author of ten previous collections of poetry.

"[R]omantic and keenly self-aware, How to Dance in this Rarefied Air examines the immigrant experience in Canada, and, by extension, the human experience, with an unabashed and postmodern flair and clarity.
     —CBC Books

"Arguably the best living Sri Lankan poet in English."
     —World Literature Today

"At 84, the Waterloo poet knows a thing or two about mortality. His thoughts, musings and speculations, not to mention certainties and anxieties, are given eloquent expression in this deep, rich, moving meditative collection of poems that celebrate life as it reflects on death."
     —Robert Reid, The Record, December 2, 2009

Please note that it was only after Today's book of poetry posted this blog/review that we were informed that Mr. Crusz had passed away in September of 2017.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration